King Manasseh of Judah: From Depths of Depravity to Child of God

“Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound.  But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Romans 5:20). 

The name of Manasseh is a name of infamy, and of the probably small number of people who know anything at all about him, fewer still know much more than that he was one of the kings of Judah.  And they probably couldn’t tell you whether he was a good king or a bad.

The advantages which should have made Manasseh a faithful servant of God 

Manasseh had the advantage of being directly descended from King David; consequently he was privileged to serve as the shepherd of God’s people.  His father was Hezekiah whom God commended, and of whom it is written: “And he did that which was right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that David his father did.  He removed the high places, and brake the images, and cut down the groves, and brake in pieces the brasen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it: and he called it Nehushtan.  He trusted in the LORD God of Israel; so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him.  For he clave [held fast] to the LORD, and departed not from following him, but kept his commandments, which the LORD commanded Moses.  And the LORD was with him…” (2 Kings 18:3-6).

Consequently, Hezekiah would have taught his son, the crown prince, about God; and would have taught him his responsibilities to both God and God’s people.  Manasseh, as he grew up, would also have been surrounded by other godly men and women in Hezekiah’s court, and been able to observe godliness and service in all these servants of God.  And he would have known that he, too, was destined and being groomed to be king and ruler of God’s people, on behalf of the God of heaven and earth. 

Unfortunately, the court would also have had its share of godless, apostate, and totally immoral men and women; and it would seem that this apostate crowd were able to gain more influence and control over him than did his godly father, the king.  Weak Manasseh was apparently unable to resist them, especially given the young age at which he ascended the throne.  And for such a young and impressionable man – a recently become adolescent and almost teenager, really – the attraction of the sexual world into which he was being drawn, would have captivated him.

So, despite his privileges and advantages which should have enabled him to live an outstandingly godly life, he sinned in the most grievous and gross ways.  God condemned the princes, the prophets, and the priests in Manasseh’s time because of their sins, saying to them, “His watchmen are blind: they are all ignorant, they are dumb dogs, they cannot bark; sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber.  Yea, they are greedy dogs which can never have enough, and they are shepherds that cannot understand: they all look to their own way, every one for his gain” (Isa 56:10-11).  And these are they whom Manasseh chose to heed in preference to his father.

Sadly, even some children of today’s pastors, ministers, missionaries and other servants of God, who grow up under the sound of the gospel, reject it, thinking they know better; and, like Manasseh, live in rebellion to God, their lives a disgrace, their attitudes so hostile to God, and their guilty consciences condemning them so relentlessly, that they reject even the idea of God and claim that he doesn’t even exist. 

All this demonstrates that the highest position in the service of God is no protection against sin, corruption, and apostasy, if this privilege is taken for granted or rejected. 

How was Manasseh Unfaithful to God?

The best and most concise way to describe Manasseh’s reign is simply to quote the bible; it is the Holy Spirit’s assessment and judgment of this wicked man.  It is a horrifying catalogue of the most heinous sins and crimes, but, Alas! we too quickly read over the passage, letting our eyes run over the words on the page but not pondering the enormity of Manasseh’s wickedness, thus allowing it to sink in to our soul, which should then cause us to recoil in revulsion and outrage.

“Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign, and reigned fifty and five years in Jerusalem.  And his mother’s name was Hephzibah.  And he that which was evil in the sight of the LORD, after the abominations of the heathen, whom the LORD cast out before the children of Israel.  For he built up again the high places which Hezekiah his father had destroyed; and he reared up altars for Baal, and made a grove, as did Ahab king of Israel; and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served them.  And he built altars in the house of the LORD, of which the LORD said, In Jerusalem will I put my name.  And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the LORD.  And he made his son pass through the fire, and observed times, and used enchantments [magic], and dealt with familiar spirits [mediums] and wizards: he wrought much wickedness in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger.  And he set a graven image of the grove that he had made in the house, of which the LORD said to David and to Solomon his son, In this house, and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, will I put my name for ever: Neither will I make the feet of Israel move any more out of the land which I gave their fathers; only if they will observe to do according to all that I have commanded them, and according to all the Law that my servant Moses commanded them.  But they hearkened not: and Manasseh seduced them to do more evil than did the nations whom the LORD destroyed before the children of Israel….Moreover Manasseh shed innocent blood very much, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another; beside his sin wherewith he made Judah to sin, in doing that which was evil in the sight of the LORD (2 Kings 21:1-9, 16).

The abominations of the heathen

It’s easy to read through this catalogue of sins against God and crimes against humanity and not be touched by it, if we don’t take the time to ponder the enormity of what is being described here, and if we don’t understand the background of what made Manasseh’s sins so sinful.  For example, what were “the abominations of the heathen, whom the LORD cast out before the children of Israel”?  Moses tells: “When thou art come into the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations.  There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire [burnt human sacrifice], or that useth divination [foretell future events, discover hidden knowledge using supernatural powers, runes], or an observer of times [soothsayer, seer, astrologer], or an enchanter [user of magic charms, amulets, enchantments, or spells], or a witch, [soothsaying, use of formulas and incantations to practice sorcery, invocation for aid of demons],  Or a charmer [dealer in spells, curses, and blessings], or a consulter with familiar spirits [medium with personal spirit guide], or a wizard [magician, sorcerer, conjurer], or a necromancer [communicating with the dead].  For all that do these things are an abomination unto the LORD: and because of these abominations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from before thee” (Deut 18:9-12). 

These sins, which the LORD tells us are abomination to him, were done greedily by Manasseh; and the above passage in 2 Kings 21: 2-7 enlarges on these abominations, showing the depraved worship practiced by Manasseh and consequently all of Jerusalem and Judah.  Manasseh, who ought to have been a shepherd of God’s people as his godly father was, led the people instead into the grossest forms of idolatry and blasphemy imaginable.  The worship practiced under Manasseh was vile and utterly degrading, but he and his sinful people revelled in it.  What a great fall this was – from Hezekiah’s godly reign to the depths of depravity under Manasseh.  And how fickle the people who first followed godly Hezekiah, and then wicked Manasseh (Jas 1:5-7; Eph 4:14).

God dishonoured and de-throned

Goaded on to ever increasing wickedness by Satan, as a horse being mercilessly whipped in order to make it go faster and faster, Manasseh even set up altars to pagan deities in the temple of Yaweh, the place of which the Lord said to David of his son, Solomon, He shall build an house for my name, and I will stablish the throne of his kingdom for ever” (2 Sam 7:13).  And of God’s presence on Zion, where the temple was situated, David sang, “he [God] chose the tribe of Judah, the mount of Zion, which he loved.  And he built his sanctuary like high palaces, like the earth which he hath established for ever” (Ps 78:68-69).  This was the height of blasphemy!  Satan, through Manasseh, rubbing it in God’s face, as it were, entering God’s own house with his filthy cloven feet and hideous visage and pulling him down from his own throne.  The defiance, the wickedness, is breath-taking.  But so is the judgment that comes on the nation in consequence of this enormous blasphemy – it will be judgment so severe that even those who only hear about it, “both his ears shall tingle” (2 Kings 21:12).

Demons honoured and worshipped

The wall had been breached.  Man had defied God and seemed to get away with it.  Satan had ascended the throne of God on earth.  The setting up of the altars, the idols, and the groves, in the house of God had gone unpunished.  The way for Satan’s hosts was now clear and they came in like a flood.  The people engaged in vile and degrading sexual worship of vile and disgusting demons – every form of sexual depravity was practiced (see Lev ch 18 and 20); children were sacrificed to the vile god/demon Moloch; the people sought guidance and counsel from demons through mediums and psychics; witches and wizards replaced the prophets of God; blood was everywhere and the streets of Jerusalem, from one end of the city to the other ran with the blood of the innocent (2 Kings 21:16).  God had promised his people that “only if they will observe to do according to all that I have commanded them, and according to all the Law that my servant Moses commanded them”, they would remain in the land he had given them forever – “But they hearkened not: and Manasseh seduced them to do more evil than did the nations whom the LORD destroyed before the children of Israel” (2 Kings 21:8-9).

Death!  Death!  And more death!

Blood ran down the streets of Jerusalem in torrents.  The blood shed was not legal punishments for crimes committed, but was the blood – the lives – of innocent people (2 Kings 21:16).  Demons love death.  Satan, Jesus tells us, “was a murderer from the beginning” (Jn 8:44); and wherever he and his cohorts are present, so are death, and degraded and degrading sexual activity.  Why is this?  The answer is in the first book of the bible.  After the flood recorded in Genesis – which was God’s judgment on humanity for the widespread and intense evil in the world – he instructed Noah: “And surely your blood of your lives will I require a reckoning; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of every man; at the hand of every man’s brother will I require the life of man.  Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man (Gen 9:5-6).  This was God’s first command to humanity after the earth had been cleansed from the evil that had polluted it.  It was linked with the command to “be fruitful and multiply” i.e. produce life (Gen 9:7).  God gives life; Satan takes it.  Satan hates man because he is made in the image of God.  And so, because of his great hatred for God whom he can’t destroy, he vents his hatred and rage on mankind, who are made in God’s image.  He loves to see and inflict suffering and brutal murder and to see blood splashing and spraying and flowing everywhere.  And he loves enslaving human beings to every imaginable (and unimaginable) form of sordid and filthy sexual activity.  The more perverse it is, the more he delights in it, because it defaces the glorious image of God in Man.  Hence the long history of highly sexualised and perverted worship in pagan nations and cultures, human sacrifice which includes children, and the symbolic shedding of blood and death even in lawful modern day rituals of demonic cults such as Freemasonry.

Further background

And so we understand more clearly now why God insisted that the person who took another person’s life must also be put to death – God would not even accept a substitutionary sacrifice for the murderer.  “Moreover ye shall take no satisfaction for the life of a murderer, which is guilty of death: but he shall surely be put to death….ye shall not pollute the land wherein ye are, for blood it defileth the land: and the land cannot be cleansed of the blood that is shed therein, but by the blood of him that shed it.  Defile not therefore the land which ye shall inhabit, wherein I dwell: for I the LORD dwell among the children of Israel” (Num 35:31, 33-34).  Thine eye shall not pity him, but thou shalt put away the guilt of innocent blood from Israel, that it may go well with thee” (Deut 19:13). 

Furthermore, if a murdered person was found but the culprit was not known, God still required an animal sacrifice with the performance of a specific ritual in order that the innocent people in the area be not held accountable for it.  “Be merciful, O LORD, unto thy people Israel, whom thou hast redeemed, and lay not innocent blood unto thy people of Israel’s charge.  And the blood shall be forgiven them.  So thou shalt put away the guilt of innocent blood from among you, when thou shalt do that which is right in the sight of the LORD” (Deut 21:1-9).

And we understand more fully the heinous crime of the Jews who were clamouring for Jesus’ death before Pontius Pilate when he offered to release Jesus according to one of their customs; but they demanded that Barabbas should be released instead.  Luke tells us that Barabbas had been imprisoned for murder (Lk 23:19), a man who had shed the blood of another and who consequently had forfeited the right to live.  These priests, knowing the law of Moses so well, were so blinded by hatred for Jesus, that they would rather offend God by having a convicted murderer released, despite all God’s instructions that a murderer should lose his own life for taking another’s, and they committed an innocent man to death.  They had completely reversed the clear, specific, reasoned, commands of God, and brought the land and the nation under God’s just condemnation (Lk 23:25).  But such was their demonically inspired hatred for the Son of God that they willingly brought down upon their own heads and that of the whole nation the curse and abandonment by God;:  “Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children” (Matt 27:25).

And now we understand more fully the sinfulness and heinous blasphemy of Manasseh.  This man who had been reared in the family and the court of the godliest king in Judah’s history, groomed to lead the people of God in worship and obedience, rejected everything his godly father had taught him, and seduced and led God’s people to abandon him and instead serve the demonic deities of the heavens and of the elements and of the weather and of fertility, doing so with perverted sexualised worship and much shedding of blood in child sacrifice and the murders of multitudes of innocents.  Under Manasseh, the whole land, the whole nation, was given over to sin and depravity of unspeakable corruption and wickedness.  Both he and the nation provoked God to such an extent that he would no longer tolerate them any longer, but would bring down his just judgment upon them.  “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb 10:31). 

God’s Just Judgment Falls on Manasseh and Judah 

The narrative repeatedly states that Manasseh’s actions were done “in the sight of the LORD”; and that God was “provoked to anger” (2 Kings 21:6).  So is it any surprise that God responded in fierce anger to Manasseh’s wickedness and sins?  In another account of the life of Manasseh, we’re told: “…the LORD spake to Manasseh, and to his people: but they would not hearken.  Wherefore the LORD brought upon them the captains of the host of the king of Assyria, which took Manasseh among the thorns, and bound him with fetters, and carried him to Babylon.  And when he was in affliction, he besought the LORD his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, And prayed unto him: and he was intreated of him, and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom.  Then Manasseh knew that the LORD he was God (2 Chron 33:10-13).

But despite that God forgave Manasseh personally for his sins because he confessed them to God and repented, he refused to forgive the unrepentant people of Judah and Jerusalem for the sins of Manasseh.  To the people of Judah, God said through the prophet Jeremiah, “Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my mind could not be toward this people: cast them out of my sight, and let them go forth….I will appoint over them four kinds, saith the LORD: the sword to slay, and the dogs to tear, and the fowls of the heaven, and the beasts of the earth, because of Manasseh the son of Hezekiah, king of Judah, for that which he did in Jerusalem” (Jer 15:1, 3-4).

Manasseh Turns to God

In the hour of his greatest need, Manasseh remembered the teaching of his youth, that King Solomon, his forefather, prayed to God at the dedication of the new temple – the temple which Manasseh had defiled so wickedly – and asked of God, “If thy people go out to battle against their enemy….If they sin against thee, (for there is no man that sinneth not,) and thou be angry with them, and deliver them to the enemy, so that they carry them away captives unto the land of the enemy, far or near; Yet if they bethink themselves in the land whither they were carried captives, and repent, and make supplication unto thee in the land of them that carried them captives, saying, We have sinned, and have done perversely, we have committed wickedness; And so return unto thee with all their heart, and with all their soul, in the land of their enemies, which led them away captive, and pray unto thee toward their land, which thou gavest unto their fathers, the city which thou hast chosen, and the house which I have built for thy name: Then hear thou their prayer and their supplication in heaven thy dwelling place, and maintain their cause, And forgive thy people….For they be thy people, and thine inheritance, which thou broughtest forth out of Egypt” (1 Kings 8:44-51).

Manasseh’s Faith Demonstrated by Works

But Manasseh repented according to God’s prescription as described in Solomon’s prayer, remembering the teaching of his youth.  And when he returned to his city and his palace, and again took up the throne of his fathers to rule his people, it was a different man with a different outlook who now ruled Judah.  Manasseh demonstrated his new-found faith by his works (Jas 2:14-26).  “Now after this he built a wall without the city of David….And he took away the strange gods, and the idol out of the house of the LORD, and all the altars that he had built in the mount of the house of the LORD, and in Jerusalem, and cast them out of the city.  And he repaired the altar of the LORD and sacrificed thereon peace offerings and thank offerings, and commanded Judah to serve the LORD God of Israel.  Nevertheless, the people did sacrifice still in the high places, yet unto the LORD their God only” (2 Chron 33: 14-17).

The Account of Manasseh is an Example of Grace

It is a blessing to the Church that somebody wrote the two books of Chronicles, and especially so as we consider the life and fate of Manasseh.  The vital information of Manasseh’s repentance recorded in 2 Chronicles is found nowhere else in the bible.  If we only had the account in 2 Kings, we would believe that Manasseh died unrepentant, another lost sinner, another rebel who abandoned God, and consequently lies in hell in unspeakable torment.  But that is not how the story ends.  It is actually very different, as we have seen, and tells the story of a proud and arrogant man who defied God, and then in his calamity, humbled himself before God; it tells the story of a man whom God loved and had predestined to eternal life.  It tells the story of a kind, gracious and merciful God who is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet 3:9).  It tells of a God who is full of grace: “But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Romans 5:20).  It tells of a God who has provided a way of escape from the fires of hell for all who wish to take it, no matter how great and how many their sins.  It tells of a Saviour who assures sinners: “All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven” (Matt 12:31).  Suffice it to say here that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit refers to attributing the work of the Holy Spirit to Satan; and denotes a heart that is adamantly and stubbornly set against God.  The main point to be grasped is the all-encompassing forgiveness of all our sins.  “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them” (2 Cor 5:19).

The grace of God and the blood of Christ are so effective, so powerful, that all the sins of all the sinners in all the world from beginning to end can be forgiven if only they humbly confess their sins to God, as did Manasseh (1 Jn 1:8-10).  Indeed, the shed blood of Jesus for sinners is sufficient to save worlds of sinners.  Manasseh is here displayed as a sinner saved by grace, demonstrating that no sinner is too sinful to be saved if he repents.